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Non-Review Review: Angels & Demons

Well, the only way to go from The DaVince Code was up, right? Good, because this doesn’t go too far up, lest you get all excited. It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill chase movie without any charm or wit or intelligence (and severely lacking in logic, one might add). It commits the cardinal sin (he he, cardinal… geddit?) of thinking that it is far smarter than it actually is, and it never manages to be particularly exciting or engaging. Still, Ron Howard can’t completely hide his talent amid a jumble of half-baked action sequences and illogical clues.

Try as you may, you can't outrun the inevitable threequel, Hanks!

Try as you may, you can't outrun the inevitable threequel, Hanks!

What a relief, the symbologist is here.

Those words, spoken by the head of the Swiss Guard are clearly meant to firmly establish him as a mid-level bureaucrat who plans to suffocate the attempt to save the Vatican being organised by the guy who claims that Jesus actually did the nasty in the past-y with Mary Magdeline. And we’re clearly meant to scoff at thisdolt’s cynicism, because clearly this symbologist is Tom Hanks, just with some dodgy hair. I’m fairly sure the line “Trust me, I’m a symbologist” must be present in an earlier version of the film, but was cut to make room for more Rome scenery porn.

The movie makes no sense. Really. No sense. Why would you turn to a dude who publicly embarassed the church to solve an internal problem? Even if you did, why would you make him the only man on the case? I’m willing to let this – and the fact he knows every remote historical trivia ever and states it in a casual “oh, didn’t you know that?” sort of way – go purely because he’s Tom Hanks. It works. There’s an earnestness in his manner which suggests that he is taking it all dead seriously – and you should too, because Tom Hanks is a nice man, isn’t he? You don’t want to disappoint him.

It’s an action movie without gunfights and brawls and – well, almost without action sequences, either. Sure, Howard tries to milk everything for what’s worth – getting into a car becomes a matter of life and death – but he really isn’t helped by a soundtrack that sounds like Hans Zimmer just copied and pasted from a spare Hannibal soundtrack he found lying around. Apparently that is what Zimmer thinks Italy sounds like – all of it. Of course, Howard is far better with characters than with action sequences, so it’s a shame that there… aren’t any, really. There are some stereotypes, but that’s being kind. Which leaves most of the cast slightly flumoxed. Except Hanks, who is really trying.

 The plot is holey – note the spelling. Really holey. Things make no sense. It’s as if the writer simply decided who the criminals would be by writing everything until the final chapter and then deciding the last person the audience would expect to be the villains would be. Of course, it’s a double bluff, because the audience has given up on logic at this point and is simply working on the same logic – who is it least likely to be? Bingo. (Hint: It’s not Tom Hanks. It’s not his hair, either.)

Oddly enough, for a film that seems to be going for the “intellectual” crowd (it is refreshing to have a summer action movie where the hero doesn’t carry a gun), the film seems to revel in its moments of violence. There’s a whole truckload of sadism herein I wasn’t expecting – from eye-gouging to branding to burning alive. It isn’t horrendously graphic, but it’s quite distracting from what was attempting to be a fun and entertaining (almost breezy) romp.

The riddles ain’t exactly engaging either. Most detective or whounnit or howdunnit fiction cheats in little ways, but this does in major ways. Langdon – and his supporting cast (try asking a tourguide how many minor rundown Cathedrals in the South of Rome could have had a particular style of statue designed by a young Raphael and seeing if they can think of more than one) – know exactly what they need to get them out of the trouble they’re in and on to the next clue. It ensures they’re always three steps and two hardbound obscure historical journals ahead of any audience. In fact, the only situation where the audience is on an even keel doesn’t require a particularly intellectual solution. (Smash!)

Still, for all this, it manages to pass the time inoffensively. As weak as the story and logic may be, Howard is a gifted director and Hanks is a gifted star. Howard makes the most of filming in one of the world’s most beautiful locations and the city gives a better performance than most of the cast. The more ridiculous moments (the aforementioned tourist guide, Langdon deducing that a guard is a smoker) are played with a wry smile – almost a wink – which makes them hard to hate (though it does make the more graphic scenes more shocking).

If you can indulge the ridiculousness of the setup and the surroundings, there’s a little bit of fun to be had. It is a stronger film than its successor (faint praise), as Hanks is more confident in an admittedly ridiculous role and Howard gets a chance to show off his dictoral flourish. Still, it’s not a film to go out of your way to see. Maybe if it was on the television and the remote’s batteries just went.

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